Merry Christmas


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It’s been a dinosaur filled day here at the Little household. We’ve played, we’ve eaten, and 2/3 of us want to just nap while the other 1/3 could play all day….it’s a good one. I hope yours was a good one, too.

Best Books of 2019


Overall I read 139 books this year. That includes books I read with Forest—because even though they are kid books, I’m still reading! That doesn’t include books on our own shelves at home or books I’ve re-read again and again with him, mostly just library books throughout this year. I started logging his books last year so I could easily figure out what we’re reading but also books he likes and we might want to revisit later. He often finds books we’ve checked out before and grabs them again so he has a good memory for that anyway.

As for “my” books, I read 45 books out of a goal of 40. That includes a few that I abandoned. Overall, that’s a pretty good reading year I think! Here are a few of my favorites from 2019!

  • Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place by Terry Tempest Williams
    I’m a latecomer to TTW but I will be reading more of her books in the future. My short write-up from my January 2019 Book Report is here but for a short synopsis, this book covers environmental history in the 1980s in and around SLC, Utah as well as coinciding events in her family history, in particular her mother’s death. TTW is a phenomenal writer and the book captivated me from the start.

  • Thirst: 2600 Miles to Home by Heather “Anish” Anderson
    My recent write-up in Adventure Reads II covers this book quite well. Loved it!

  • Trespassing Across America: One Man’s Epic, Never-Done-Before (and Sort of Illegal) Hike Across the Heartland by Ken Ilgunas
    Ken Ilgunas undertakes a walk across Canada and the US along the proposed and partially constructed routes of the Keystone XL pipeline and this book covers that adventure. Part thru-hike memoir, part environmental history/investigative journalism, this book was great for not being a typical hiking memoir.

  • Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion by Jia Tolentino
    Earlier this year I tried to read (listen) to Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy but found it too dry, rambling, and philosophical. It was never cohesive enough to grab my attention and say I liked it. Around that same time I began seeing reviews of Jia Tolentino’s book and added myself to the long queue of people in line borrow it as an e-book. Still finding myself quite down that list six months later I just requested the paper version and had it within a couple of weeks. Tolentino’s book filled the gap where Odell’s missed for me and I was quickly reading through the pages. Tolentino is a bonafide millennial whereas I find myself straddling two generations, Gen-X and millennial, and typically identify with more Gen-X tendencies than the other generation. That said, I could identify with her quite a bit, particularly her essays about her early life living in Houston as well as her early use of the internet. The book is a look at our navel gazing ways, but also the many ways we delude ourselves in the age of social media as well as the ways Big Tech has its hand in all of it. It’s hard to explain what this book really is but it is a delightful read and I highly recommend it.

  • The Royal We (Royal We #1)by Heather Cocks
    A spin on the Prince William and Kate story but sub an American and some other intrigue and voila you’ve got a slightly cheesy but highly addicting chick-lit romance novel. Extremely satisfying!

  • Plant Dreaming Deep by May Sarton
    A great introduction to May Sarton and her non-fiction works. This one covers her move to Nelson, NH in the mid-20th century. The way she writes about light is what grabbed me and held my attention.

  • Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb
    This one seemed to slowly take off in the podcast world before I saw more people talking about it elsewhere. The premise is a therapist ends up going through a traumatic event in her life which then causes her to seek therapy and during the course of that begins sorting out some other things in her life. While all of this is going on she’s also writing about several of her own patients and how they are using therapy to sort out their own life. Great read, very insightful, definitely recommend!

  • Where the Forest Meets the Stars by Glendy Vanderah
    Ah, I loved this book! A field biologist working remotely studying birds for her thesis comes across a girl named Ursa in her backyard one day and attempts to talk to the girl, who says she’s an alien. It’s obvious something nefarious is going on but she can’t figure out what to do. The biologists, Joanna, befriends a neighbor down the road and then the story takes off there. A good mix of mystery, science, and a little romance, this book came in third for Goodreads’ Best Fiction of 2019.

  • The Latecomers by Helen Klein Ross
    A historical fiction novel spanning a century, it begins with a young Irish girl escaping with her fiancé on a ship to NYC in the early 1900s. Along the way she manages to get pregnant, have her fiancé die on the ship coming over, and then find herself in a predicament of knowing just about no one in America. The book changes perspectives several times to fill in gaps in time or events where other characters aren’t seeing that perspective so you get some things fulfilled. I enjoyed the book as a whole but was sad a few things weren’t wrapped up as tidily as I would have wanted.

  • Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver
    Late to the Mary Oliver scene, I’ve had this book on my wishlist to read for years. I finally bought it this summer with birthday money and I wasn’t disappointed. Most were natural history type essays though a few were more literary (and subsequently held my attention less) but overall this was a well-rounded introduction to Oliver.

Around Juneau, AK


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Had to stop and take a photo of the Bucc-ee’s sticker all the way in Alaska! (Bucc-ee’s is a chain gas station/store in Texas that draws crowds of people when you stop at one. And super clean restrooms.)

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Because we’d arrived in Juneau mid-morning we had until later in the evening before our ship left port and approximately four or five hours before we had to return to the ship to get on our tour bus for the whale watching tour. Our ship was docked at the furthest dock from town and thankfully the city/cruise ships have a deal to provide shuttles to the east side of town for tourists. I mean, it wouldn’t have been bad to walk for us but all of the older folks would have had a terrible time of it.

Once in town we were greeted with even more tacky jewelry shops as we approached town and I was hoping that the entire town wasn’t going to look like this. I had heard from a couple of friends that they enjoyed Juneau but my initial impression wasn’t great. We kept walking and it became a little less touristy. Junueau is a town that you cannot drive to from outside another area. There’s one main road that goes from Pt Bridget State Park on the north, down to Juneau and then to the village of Thane, and another road that goes over to Douglas Island, and of course some city roads around town, but otherwise you must arrive into Juneau via air or boat. And it’s the state capital! After seeing the size of Anchorage later I wondered why Juneau was still the capital after all these years. That said, without the government agencies and the tourist industry, Juneau would be an incredibly quiet place.

We popped into shops that were of interest to us, searching for unique gifts or art from local artists. There were still quite a bit of generic tourist shops and not a lot stuck out to us as worth stopping in until I got to Kindred Post to buy some stamps. They had a collection of unique gifts, stickrs, and postcards as well as being a postal/package drop off center. By this time we were starting to get hungry so we set off looking for something to eat. Every time we asked a local what would be good we would never get a satisfying answer like we had gotten in Ketchikan. Finally someone said that a nice place to sit by the water and eat might be at The Hangar on the Wharf. It was a pub-food type place but they had their version of salmon bisque and I was going to indulge! Chris got a salmon burger if I recall and I can’t remember what Forest ate—we might have tried to get him to eat chicken tenders. The view was pleasant with sea planes coming in and out from various tours so we got to enjoy watching them take off and land while we ate.

After lunch we walked back up to Heritage Coffee Roasting to get a coffee since my appetite for coffee was coming back. They had gelato and Forest and Chris splurged on dessert. By this time we needed to slowly make our way back to the ship, stopping in a few places I’d noted to pop back into on our way back. One place we stumbled across and hadn’t seen on the way in was Haa Shagoon, a gallery that had a sign up by the main road inviting tourists to get away from the generic crap and see some local art. It was a great shop and if I’d known it would have been of the few native art shops we’d find I would have bought more. I ended up buying just a pair of earrings but they are a favorite pair of mine now. Do stop in here when you come through Juneau!

I wish we’d had more time to see some of the more historic buildings in town, the governors mansion and other places like that, but we had whales to see!

Mendenhall Glacier View No. 2


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On our way to a whale watching tour in Juneau, we stopped for about 10 minutes at the Brotherhood Bridge near the Mendenhall River to get our first glimpse of the Mendenhall Glacier. The Mendenhall River is a relatively short river, draining Mendenhall Lake at the base of the glacier, flowing into Fritz Cove downstream. The view from the scenic overlook area was gorgeous as you can see, with swaths of fading fireweed in the foreground. In the distance we saw paddlers in the river. A trail was nearby but we had no time for sleuthing down the trail so we had to be content with our views from here. I must say, I was more impressed with the glacier from this viewpoint than I was up close. And I have another viewpoint, eventually, from Auke Bay while on our tour boat.

I’m including a few links about the history of the Brotherhood Bridge:
+The Brotherhood Bridge over the Mendenhall River via AK DOT
+Brotherhood Bridge rededicated via the Juneau Empire

Kentucky Lady’s Slipper, Cypripedium kentuckiense | Wildflower Wednesday


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I’ll have a few posts from our hiking trip along the Eagle Rock Loop from 2012 these next few weeks for Wildflower/Wildlife Wednesdays. Wildflower/Wildlife Wednesday is a much better use of “I don’t know what to post but it is Wednesday” than Wordless Wednesday used to be. Though, Wordless Wednesday had ease going for it—just post a photo! I suppose I could turn these into that as well but let’s not, though we can just keep them short and brief.

I think lady slipper orchids are one of the Holy Grail orchids to find and also to keep. We had a variety/species of one when we lived in Florida and it promptly died a few months later. Maybe it lived a year? I’m not sure other than I know it wasn’t a plant we had long term. In general the tropical, epiphytic orchids were and are still the easier ones to keep, at least for us.

In our hikes across the south and on the AT we’ve come across a few lady slipper orchids, primarily on the AT. I couldn’t tell you which ones they were in particular until I looked them up—maybe I’ll do that eventually—but these Kentucky Lady’s Slipper orchids took us by surprise when we stumbled across them on our hike. It was a time that I know we would have wished to have had our good cameras on us but at the time we only had our little point and shoot.

Based on that kentuckiense they obviously are known to occur in Kentucky but populations are spread out from Virginia down to sparse locales in Alabama and Mississippi to Louisiana and Texas, with the vast majority of sightings on iNaturalist being in Arkansas. There are a couple of places we can check out here in Texas and some day when we get a chance to get back into deep east Texas I want to go looking for them. It was even on my 39 goals for 2019 list—let’s just pretend that little list doesn’t exist. It was written for a more adventurous and time available person!

More info:
Cypripedium kentuckiense via North American Orchid Conservation Center
The Slipper Orchids via USFS
Cypripedium kentuckiense, the southern lady’s slipper orchid via Botany Boy

The Grotto at Westcave Preserve


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I think the word has gotten out about Westcave Preserve—our tour was crowded during our visit in July. Of course it didn’t help that it was the 4th of July weekend when we visited, but still. After you’ve come here several times and basically had a tour to yourself, you get spoiled!

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We joined the tour and stuck towards the back of the line so Forest could walk slower and we could dawdle just a bit. And we had been here several times so we knew the main spiel already, though of course new things get sprinkled in as the years go on, particularly discussions about floods. Various flooding events rip through the grotto and ravine every few years and uproot vegetation and erode the pathways which creates work for the folks at Westcave.

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It is always so peaceful here, even with a small crowd.

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Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis

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The light was just right in the grotto for the water to reflect that beautiful blue. Certainly enticing to want to swim in on a hot, humid Hill Country July late morning!

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Cypress holding down the soil along the creekside.

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Black Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum capillus-veneris

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Stream Orchid/Chatterbox Orchid, Epipactis gigantea

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Wand Butterfly Bush, Buddleja racemosa — I was on the lookout for this one as I had seen someone post it recently and I wanted to see it. It’s an endemic species to the Hill Country area and a buddleja to boot. Most people are familiar with the non-native buddelja that gets planted in butterfly gardens and is known to be an invasive species in some locales. This one is definitely not nearly as gregarious as that species but it is still rather fascinating, especially this one as it was clinging to the rocks along the trail. Keep an eye out for it when you visit!

There’s not a lot to say about this trip to the preserve but it is always a highlight when we do get a chance to visit!

Inside Passage Approach to Juneau, AK


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I think this is what is labeled on a topo as Suicide Falls coming out of Cross Bay Creek on the SE side of town.

Our arrival into Juneau wasn’t until mid-morning so we had plenty of time to get up, eat breakfast, and then bounce from outside deck to outside deck to take in the views as we slowly sailed into Juneau. With Admiralty Island and Douglas Island to our port side and the mainland to our starboard side, we had plenty of interesting things to see on each. The island side was less populated, less homes built and much more remote appearing. Once we crossed over to Douglas Island a road began on the mainland side which meant more housing and then eventually to the area where you see the fisherman wading into the water. They appeared as specks in the distance, finally coming into better view as we got closer and could be identified as humans instead of birds. I definitely picked out a house or two that would have been perfect for making as my hideaway cabin—perfect for writing and drinking a morning cup of coffee while I took in the scenes from the passage.

The one downside to sailing at night is that we didn’t get to take in the sights as we traveled through the passage but of course that would mean no town stops during daytime hours. Later on we’d get more glimpses of the water lanes we would be traveling but for now we had to take in what we could during arrival and departure.

A Visit to Fern Plantation


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Arachnoides standishii

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L to R: Jean, Cindy, Laurin, Andrea, Darla Fern Plantation’s owner, and me.

A few weeks ago I was invited to join some other garden bloggers for a little mid-week meetup at a local nursery. No one had been to it before but I had seen it on Google Maps as it is in our neck of the woods. Fern Plantation nursery had piqued our interest but because it seemed to be by appointment only (and it is) we didn’t really know if we could go and visit. Was it wholesale only? After the invitation from Andrea to join the group I knew that I wanted to go and find out more!

So I took a few hours off mid-day to meet up with the group and I knew most of these ladies via social media or their blogs, and I had met Andrea by chance at a Peckerwood Garden plant sale back in the spring. Other than that I had not met them in person and didn’t know much about them other than what I’ve seen online so it was nice to get to know them a little bit and hang out with some fellow gardeners.

The nursery itself is at the end of a dead-end road and you turn onto the driveway kind of unsure that you are in the right place, despite the signage directing you to the greenhouses. Once I arrived I felt instantly transported to the nursery areas of SW Miami-Dade county, in the Redland area where tropical plant growers abound. Chris and I used to drive those quiet backroads and find random greenhouses to peek into and buy whatever they were growing—anything from orchids and bromeliads to various tropical plants. Ah, I could go for a weekend doing that again!

Cindy was there first, chatting with Darla, and so I joined them while we waited for the rest to arrive. Darla has been into ferns for several decades but only in the last few years has she turned that into the business. There are so many ferns that I couldn’t even begin to name them all but I did see several glorious birdsnest and staghorn ferns that were very drool-worthy. I’m always looking for native plants so I asked about those first and was directed to the growing area for those. I ended up buying two native ferns and two non-native ferns: Dryopteris goldiana – Goldie’s wood fern, Athryium filix-femina – lady fern, Arachnoides standishii – upside down fern (labeled in the photos above), and Microgramma piloselloides – hairy snakefern–and it came in a mounted container as a more ornamental fern. Now to just make sure the deer don’t devour them once I plant them in the ground in the spring!

After our trip wandering the greenhouse we found some Tex-Mex for lunch and to chat a bit. It reminded me of the garden meet-ups I used to go to in Florida through Gardenweb, back when that it was in its heyday. Hopefully another meet-up will work out again in the future! But if you are in Houston and want to visit a very different kind of nursery, look up Fern Plantation and give them a call to drop by!

Red-Spotted Purple Butterfly, Limenitis arthemis astyanax | Wildlife Wednesday


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As seems to be the general case these days, I was digging around on my backup hard drive looking for another particular photo or set of photos and came across our photos from when Chris and I joined my brother and dad to hike the Eagle Rock Loop on the Ouachita Mountains of Arkansas back in 2012. You can read day 1, day 2, and day 3 here. For those entries I had put together the photos into a sort of mosaic, mostly trying to conglomerate how many photos I had per post into something more reasonable, a feat that I’ve never really been able to replicate or reduce because if you read my blogs you know there are lots of photos!

That said, I wanted to upload the photos themselves to Flickr instead of having those mosaics and that prompted me to want to have a few select posts about the wildlife, the first being the red-spotted purple butterflies we saw. At the time I didn’t know what they were and probably thought they were related to swallowtails but instead they are in the brush-footed family, Nymphalidae. Despite there being quite a bit of sightings in Texas, I have only seen them or at least noticed them once, this last summer in a ‘burb of NE Dallas. And at that time I didn’t even know what it was until I put it into iNaturalist. But when these photos popped up I knew what they were immediately and that was quite exciting to see! We came across two different groupings, one at the Albert Pike Recreation Area where they were actively trying to enjoy the salt off of our hands, and another group at the trailhead to Little Missouri Falls where they were puddling on the ground.

There are two subspecies of the red-spotted admiral, Limenitis arthemis astyanax – the red-spotted purple, and Limenitis arthemis arthemis – the white admiral. The white admiral is the more northern subspecies ranging from the New England area into the Great Lakes over to Minnesota, and the red-spotted purple ranging in a much broader area from New England and south into the mid-west and dipping into east and central Texas. From what I’ve read the two subspecies will hybridize when their regions overlap and apparently they can also hybridize with viceroys, Limenitis archippus! Viceroys are monarch mimics for those who may know that name. Caterpillar host plants include cherry, vaccineum, and willow species among a few others.

Another check to the butterfly life list!

The Fields Aflame


Sometime in late 2010 I came to know of Florence + the Machine via the Lungs album. I bought the cd and ripped it to upload to my mp3 player and listened to the album on our 2011 Florida Trail thru-hike in the evenings while in the tent. Since then I’ve become a huge fan of her music and have bought her subsequent albums, mostly recently High As Hope, albeit over a year after it was released. I’m a little slow on the music front these days.

It was really one of the songs from that album that I came across on Spotify that sealed the deal to get back into collecting F + M music.

Snippets from my favorite lyrics in the song South London Forever, which is probably my favorite song on the album:

With your black cool eyes and your bitten lips
The world is at your fingertips
It doesn’t get better than this
What else could be better than this?
Oh, don’t you know I have seen
I have seen the fields aflame
And everything I ever did
Was just another way to scream your name

And we’re just children wanting children of our own
I want a space to watch things grow
But did I dream too big?
Do I have to let it go?
What if one day there is no such thing as snow?

Except that green is so green
And there’s a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring
Oh, don’t you know I have seen
I have seen the fields aflame
And everything I ever did
Was just another way to scream your name

The two particular lines that I love the most:

“What if one day there is no such thing as snow?” —just the way she sings it and the song moves in this portion.

“And there’s a special kind of sadness that seems to come with spring” —I can feel these lyrics because I can completely understand them.

I’ll close with another video of another of my favorite songs on the album:

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